Pepper Perfect

No two years in farming are ever the same, NEVER. Even the most seemingly reliable crops have fallen prey to viruses, ground squirrels, heat damage and root rot due to unexpected summer rains. Just as crops falter there is usually one crop that exceeds expectations every year. This year the standout veggie was the Pepper.

img_20160816_114029679

Early this spring I seeded four different types, Heirloom Red Bell, Fresno chili, Heirloom Corno di Giallo and Shishito. They have all met my expectations as far as production, but the Red Bells have had aimg_20160910_072533603n outstanding season.

I grow them primarily for the SunnysideLOCAL Fresno Pepper Jam. This year the bells are sweet with amazing thick walls. The plants have grown tall and sturdy and even as we near the end of September they show no sign of quitting.

img_20160914_110255942

My goal with this post is to share my success with others. Our increasingly intense summer heat is changing the way I grow and recent water restrictions have made farmers become creative with resources.

So, as always, everything starts with the soil. Compost, compost, compost! The Bell Pepper bed was loaded with a 4 inch layer of aged organic compost in February and turned under. This was well ahead of the early April planting date. I adhere to an annual crop rotation schedule, so the space was new to peppers this year. Irrigation lines were put in place with a drip line for each pepper plant. Our water usage has been significantly diminished by installing drip lines and timers.

Don’t rush to plant pepper transplants early. They like warm soil. In a spot that receives 6-8 hours of sun each day plant pepper transplants 12 inches apart. One book I read says, “they like to rub shoulders with each other”. In each planting hole I place a handful of bonemeal and general purpose organic fertilizer (EB Stone). Dig in plant and water in.

img_20160920_174514

This particular growing area has 30 pepper plants. They grew strong during April and May then in June it was time to bring out the secret weapon, SHADE CLOTH. Most of my summer crops grew under 30% Shade Block through the 100 + degree days. It decreases stress, water evaporation and prevents sun scald which often plagues pepper walls.

img_20160920_173429160Now plants are 2-3 feet tall and will continue to produce until frost. Fruit is heavy and needs to be tied up to stakes as the plant grows taller. Throughout the season plants need consistent water. Our timers are set to irrigate for 10 minutes every other day.

Well, this is what worked for me this year. Can’t wait to see what the standout crop will be next year.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Good Food Awards Journey

  Here is a photo gallery of our trip to the Bay Area which proved to be about much more than just accepting an award.  We felt validated to know there are many small companies like us out there challenged to be … Continue reading

More Galleries | Leave a comment

Growing Blueberry Bushes in the High Desert

blueberryincontainer3Hello to our new friends at the Phelan Farmers Market.  On our first visit to your new market I talked to many of you about growing the amazing blueberry bushes in your Growing Zone 8b.  After listening to you, this is what I understand to be your biggest obstacles to growing in the High Desert.

HEAT

WIND

CRITTERS

COLD IN WINTER MONTHS

 

 

Zone 8b: 15F to 20F.  The average first frost in 92371 is between November 1 – 10, while the average last frost occurs between April 1 – 10. Ecoregion 92371 averages 91 – 120 days per year where the temperatue exceeds 86°F. The average annual high temperature in 92371 is 73°F and the average annual low temperature is 43°F. The average high temperature in July (Summer) is 91°F, while the average high temperature in January (Winter) is 54°F.

HEAT

Here are two helpful links that were published from growers in Arizona regarding growing blueberries in heat. The heat they encounter is more than Phelan and they are achieving success by following a few simple rules.  Read on….

http://www.cultivatingdust.com/2012/05/07/growing-blueberries-in-the-desert-garden/

http://tucsoncitizen.com/morgue/2009/02/27/110963-grow-blueberries-in-the-desert-with-container-potting-soil/

WIND

One customer that I spoke with on Monday suggested trellising bushes.  This would be a great idea for supporting young bushes until they adapt to the wind conditions, and they do.  Mature branches coming from the ground take on a barky, woody texture when the plants are between 4 and 5 years old.  Its branching support system is very strong by then. Another idea would be to use a tomato cage until strong woody branches have formed.

CRITTERS

I heard that you are overrun with rabbits, but I never knew you had so many kinds of rabbits.  I found this photo and it looks like this set up could be useful on many levelsblueberries desert 2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COLD

Overwintering your blueberries – While blueberries are tough plants, if you live in a cold area, and are overwintering them in their containers, move them against a building or into a protected area to keep them out of the wind. You can also mulch your plants with straw or wrap them in burlap. In the winter, while plants are dormant, they don’t need much water, but don’t let them completely dry out.

After taking these issues into consideration follow the growing guides for blueberry bushes.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Wake up, Blueberries

blueberryLittle pink and white lantern shaped flowers are popping out all over SunnysideLOCAL Farm.  That means one thing….the blueberry bushes are waking up from their dormancy and bud break is rampant.  This signal tells you that it’s time for some early spring care.  If you have bushes, this is probably the most work you’ll do with them all year (which isn’t much).  Below we will give you our suggestions for Wake-Up Care and show you how our bushes are doing.  Read on.

2014-02-13_10-10-57_973

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wake-Up Care includes:  fertilizing, light pruning, irrigation system check and observing the general condition of the bushes.  Our fertilizer is a nutrient rich cocktail.  Part one is a 50/50 mix of peat moss and organic compost.  Part two is a balanced organic fertilizer specifically for acid loving plants.  Blueberries require Low nitrogen fertilization and the acid lovers fertilizer has an NPK (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium) rating of 5-5-3.  Too much nitrogen produces lots of foliage at the expense of berries.  E.B. Stone is my company of choice when it comes to most growing amendments.

2014-02-13_10-21-56_500

 

 

 

 

 

 

To take care of 70 blueberry bushes, I pack a toolbox to roll around the grove with fertilizer and compost soil mix.  In the wheelbarrow you’ll notice the 50/50/compost mix, acid fertilizer and tools for correcting irrigation problems and doing some light pruning.   OFF WE GO!

2014-02-13_10-24-39_274This photo shows a grouping of Southmoon Southern Highbush blueberries.  They are budding like crazy and waiting for the nutrients that will carry them through their producing season.  Hoops provide structure for bird netting during berry production and shade cloth in the heat of summer.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                     

2014-02-13_10-38-05_706To Fertilize:  Remove old leaves that have fallen onto the soil over the winter.  This allows the organic fertilizer to have direct contact with the soil.  Add a heaping garden spade full of Acid Lovers fertilizer to soil surface. DO NOT TILL IN.  Blueberries have VERY shallow roots and working the area with tools could damage precious new growth.  Next, you will add the 50/50 compost-peat moss mix.  Check the soil level in your pot.  If you have had the bush for a few years soil will settle and compact.  The amount you add to each pot may vary because of this.  Now give the bush a good soaking of water to get all the nutrients filtering down.

 

2014-02-13_10-52-59_710

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another part of Wake Up Care is light pruning.  While you have this opportunity to look closely at the bushes clip out any dead wood that may have been missed from last season.  You don’t want to do any major pruning until after harvest.  This could disrupt your fruiting.  If you are using drip irrigation, now is a good time to check your lines and emitters to make sure flow of water is optimal for the upcoming season.

2014-02-13_10-46-57_870While you are in a position to observe, look at the leaves.  Do you see any signs of Chlorosis, a condition signaled by light yellow leaves with darker green veins.  One of the causes of this is a soil environment that has become too alkaline for the plant and iron absorption is prevented.  In this case, add a handful of Soil Sulfur with the fertilizer and water in.  Within a week or two color should return to a nice forest green.

 

 

2014-02-13_11-15-58_188

 

 

 

 

 

 

A cove of blueberry bushes basking in the warm spring sun.  The branches look a little skinny and twiggy, but new leaves are unfurling everyday and within weeks there will be a lush green canopy.  They are well fed now, loaded with blossoms and mid-April we are looking forward to a sensational harvest.  Can’t wait!

If you have questions or suggestions, please respond to this post.  That way we will help each other raise even more delicious berries in the future.  Have a bountiful berry season, Mindy.blueberry in baskets

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Berry Patch Blog

Throughout the holiday season we sold our portable “Berry Patch in a Bag” at the Farmers market.  The container berry patch was developed using Smart Pot aeration bags to help people with limited space enjoy the gardening experience.

The berries that you purchased in December were entering their dormant phase.  Dormancy gives the plants time to store up chilling hours and energy that they will need to produce lots of strawberries starting in the spring.  There will be physical changes to your plants during this time which will most likely include:  yellowing and/or browning of many leaves, drying of leaves.  This is normal.

To help you feel more comfortable that your plants are looking as they should, I will be growing my own demonstration Berry Patches in Bags.  Regularly I will update this page with timed photos and comments to show you how my plants are doing during the cold months and into spring blooms.  I will also provide maintenance information at these times.

FEBRUARY 7, 2013

 In January we had a week of very cold weather with the mercury dipping into the 20′s.  During this cold snap I covered the berries with an old canvas tarp.  From all I can tell there was no visible damage.  Today they are a lovely healthy green and just waiting for a sustained period of warmer weather to start budding.  Since the first of the year, I have only watered the baskets once.  The rain has done the rest.

With the cold weather a couple leaves turned red and yellow.  As you can see from the photo above there are a few brown, crinkled leaves.  New growth has already started from the center of each plant.  For now there is nothing to do but let them grow more green leaves.  When white flowers start appearing and temperatures warm up a bit it will be time to fertilize.  I will make my next post at that time.  That should be closer to the end of February/beginning of March.  Until then, let it rain, let it rain, let it rain!

FEBRUARY 9, 2013

Feeling a sense of gratitude for our seasonal rain showers.  It was a good soaking yesterday with temperatures touching the mid-30’s.  Our mature blueberry bushes are loving it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Misty blueberries produce fruit first in the season.  Their little white blossoms are  opening up everywhere on the property.  It will be time to amend with organic acid loving fertilizer soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our beautiful Southmoon blueberries lose a few more leaves during the winter and lag a bit behind Misty in bud production.  Their fruit buds have started to swell but have not blossomed yet.  All bushes look vigorous without signs of cold damage.

MARCH 1, 2013

Spring is right around the corner and temperatures are creeping up (at least for the coming week).  Both of our blueberry varieties  are budding out so we have fertilized all plants, mature producing bushes and for sale bushes.  Over the next week the forecast is telling us that temperatures will be creeping up so I am turning on the irrigation for the first time in the season.  Blueberries in 20 gallon pots will have irrigation set for 10 minutes every three days.

The photo shows Rhododendron, Azalea, Camillia fertilizer, aka “acid lover’s” fertilizer, which is what we use to fertilize the blueberry bushes.  All these plants are related and have similar nutrition requirements.  An alternative acidic fertilizer would be Cottonseed meal.  Make sure this is OMRI approved. Non-organic cottonseed meal is derived from cotton plants that have been sprayed with pesticides and we don’t want this!  To make your plants extra happy, and I like happy blueberries, top dress the bushes with a nice mix of coffee grounds and organic compost.  This just adds to the acid/organic matter environment that blueberries thrive in.

Sources for these amendment include:  Gardner and Bloome Organics available at Sunshine Growers Nursery, Yucaipa or EB Stone Organic line available at Cherry Valley Nursery.  All fertilizers are available in small box size for a few plants or bulk weight size if you have several plants.

MARCH 10, 2013

Two days of great rainfall have made all the berries extremely happy.  As you can see in the photo, many of the plants in the bags are starting to produce their little white berry flowers.  This is your first cue that it is time to fertilize.

I wanted to take advantage of the wet forecast so hours before the rain I fertilized the berry bags for the first time this season.

I am partial to the quality of E B Stone organic products and use many of their fertilizers and potting soil.  When choosing amendments always be aware of the NPK (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium).  This general plant mix has an NPK of 5-5-5 which is appropriate for strawberries.  Don’t fertilized berries with a nitrogen higher than 8 or you will get nice leafy plants with few berries.  With this product use 1/4 cup fertilizer per berry bag and distribute evenly around plants.

This year I am renovating many of the beds where I grow strawberries for our jam.  Mother plants are usually productive for 3-4 years and then you need to pull them out and plant new.  After speaking with a few commercial growers I will lay down irrigation tape instead of individual drip lines.  Water is distributed more evenly with this method.  As we get around to making this happen I will post a picture.  As with many of my supplies I deal in bulk, so for irrigation supplies I have an account with Hydroscape off of Mountain View Avenue.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Trellising Tomatoes

When your spring-planted tomatoes start to sprawl it’s time to give them the support they need to produce large fruit throughout the season.  Last year we staked all of our tomato plants by sinking a six foot rebar post and giving it a 1/2 inch PVC sheath.  Staking large, often seven foot plants, can be time consuming and awkward.  So, this year we are trying the trellising system.

Strength is an important consideration when you are planning a structure to support plants with 1-4 pound tomatoes.  We started with 5 foot heavy-duty fencing posts and placed them about every 5-6 feet.  Then the fun part of placing the wire fencing.  It is like wrestling with a metal octopus, no, two metal octopi.  This particular fencing has 2X3 inch openings.  You will need this size or bigger so vines can comfortably go from one side of the fence to the other.

Here is a view of the tomato plant from the other side of the fencing.  The flowering stems have already put themselves through the wire.  I started by pulling the long arms of the vine up individually and attaching them to the fence with paper coated wire ties.  I don’t use plastic tape because it stretches too much over time because of the weight of the fruit.  We give each arm about 2-3 inches distance from the fence and tie securely.  You will need to go back frequently and tie up new arms as they grow.  Weaving the vines through the matrix of the wire is another way to support without ties.

 

This picture is a great illustration of several things that need to be addressed at this time in the tomato’s growing cycle.  Starting at the bottom of the plant notice a lack of leaves and their color.  The leaves at the base of the plant are cut off to prevent disease transmission.  Also yellowing and brittling of the lowest leaves is normal in the cycle.  They are old leaves, the first to support the young plant through its growth.  Once a canopy has been developed, they are shaded from the sun and start to wither.  Cut them off.  Judge your plant’s health by the new leaf growth, not the old leaves growing at the base.

When the main stalk of the plant is about an inch thick it is a good time to add a good mulching of some organic compost and a handful of organic low nitrogen fertilizer.  This will help to boost the plant well into the fall.  Now that tomatoes are starting to appear and grow it is time to decrease the frequency of watering.  Right now I am watering every 3-4 days for about 1/2 hour.  As tomatoes start to ripen I may decrease the frequency by 1 or 2 days more.  This helps to prevent cracking of the fruit.  Another tip to prevent cracking is to water in the evening as the day is cooling off.  Never water midday.  That is a sure way to rupture the skin of the tomato.  Note: This watering schedule does NOT apply to container grown tomatoes.  Because they are pot bound and the roots are subject to overheating keep any potted tomatoes on a 2-3 day watering schedule.  DO fertilize and compost mulch these plants if their stalks have reached 1 inch in diameter.

Our pest management for the tomatoes is done with something we call The Three B’s, Basil, Borage and Birdnetting.   The herbs are interplanted with the tomatoes and are great for keeping the hornworms and cutworms at bay.  The birds patrol from above and the netting helps to prevent all those little holes they make in the skin.  One comment about borage, it self seeds and can be invasive if you don’t keep it under control.  It is easy to pull from areas where it is unwanted if you do it when the plants are small.  It is a beautiful plant and the bees love it.

 

 

This is the cherry and small tomato part of the farm.  You can see large pole trellises to the right of the picture and these are for cucumbers.  Our pepper growing area is to the back.  All the smaller tomatoes are just supported with stakes and that seems to be working. Their maximum height should only be about 5 feet.

Hope this is helpful information for your tomato growing at this time of the season.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Summer Squash

                                                                                                                                                   Despite all the strange spring weather,  the summer garden at La Colina is growing well.  We have several different vegetables and fruits growing here and leading the pack are our selection of summer squashes.  Italian Romanesco Zucchini, Gentry Yellow Crookneck, Geode round, and South African Gem Squash are now turning ripe and ready for market.  Jane’s mom, Sue Hartsell, is visiting from North Carolina and today we decided to have a special lunch featuring our squash.  With only a few simple ingredients, Jane whipped up a fresh pasta and squash lunch. 

Olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper helped to bring out the flavor of each type of squash so we could taste and compare their individual flavors.  Jane sauted everything in her cast iron skillet in just a few minutes and the  smell was incredible.  To complete the dish we cooked a gorgonzola/marscapone stuffed ravioli and served the squash over top.

The shapes and colors of the squash made a beautiful presentation.  We sprinkled grated parmesan cheese and fresh parsley over the dish.  On the side a crusty piece of bread and olive oil completed the meal.  Italian Romanesco is a meaty zucchini with a nutty smooth flavor.  The texture is slightly firm with a star pattern when sliced across the grain.  Geode round  is a very buttery mild squash and perfect for stuffing. Gentry Yellow Crookneck is gently tart with a smooth texture. We have one more vine called a South African Gem Squash.  These will ripen in about a week.

Top it all off with a crisp, clean Pinot Grigio and lunch is served.  Keep it simple and summer fresh.

White Chocolate Mini Cheesecakes

We are making these cheesecakes to showcase our Key Lime Marmalade.  This is a lowfat recipe to satisfy your sweet tooth with a creamy little morsel.

Make:  12 servings

Prep Time:  20 minutes

Bake Time:  20 minutes

 

     12 thin vanilla or ginger wafer cookies  crushed

     12 ounce reduced fat  cream cheese, softened

     3 ounce white chocolate baking squares melted

     ½ cup sugar

     ¼ cup fat-free milk

     1 ½ teaspoon vanilla

     1 egg white lightly beaten

 

1.        Preheat oven to 375 F.  Line muffin pan with

Twelve 2 ½ inch foil or paper baking cups.

Place small amount of crushed wafer cookie

at bottom of cup.

2.        In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese with mixer

on medium speed 30 seconds.  Beat white c

chocolate, sugar, milk, and vanilla until well

combined.  Stir in egg white.  Spoon mixture

into muffin cups until each is about ¾ full.

3.        Bake about 20 minutes or until set, then set

pan on a wire rack to cool, 10 minutes.  Cover

and chill 3-24 hours.

4.        Garnish with fresh fruit or low sugar jams.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fish heads finally found!

Some days you just have all the luck.  I like those kind of days.  I will start planting a large portion of my tomato crop tomorrow and hadn’t found a good inexpensive source for fish heads.  On a whim I thought I’d check the Albertson’s on Redlands Boulevard and Cypress.  Sure enough, it turns out they can order fish heads anytime.  Britney S. wears several hats at Albertson’s and today she was covering the fish counter.  Britney told me that the store doesn’t get many requests for fish heads but can usually have them available 2-3 days after ordering.  So, she is putting in an order for a case and they will be at the store on Friday 4/8.  Albertson’s sells their fish heads for $0.99/lb. each, not bad.  Albertson’s is lucky to have Britney as an employee.  She is great at customer service.

This particular Albertsons also has a Starbucks in the store.  They routinely put their used coffee grounds in a blue bucket next to the little kiosk and they are free.  Just ask.  Grounds are great for blueberry mulch and adding to your compost pile.

Hope this helps all you biodynamic farmers.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Fish head/Tomato Growing Project

How do you grow lots of healthy tomatoes?  Many books, articles, and internet resources are available to answer that question.  Your answer will come from the type of farming you want to do.  Our goal as farmers is to enrich our soil and grow healthy produce at the same time.  Because of this we chose a biodynamic method and it goes something like this. 

For heirloom tomatoes that grow as tall as nine feet, space plants three feet apart.  Dig holes one foot wide and 18-24 inches deep.  Some tomatoes can develop roots to a depth of six feet or more.

 

 

 

 

 

Find a seafood restaurant or fish market with fish heads for sale cheap.  Place head at bottom of hole, stand back and admire it.  As the roots grow and reach deep into the soil the fish head will serve as a source of nitrogen and calcium.  Albertson’s Fish Counter is a great source for fish heads @ $0.99/pound.  If they don’t have them at the time you  request, the head can be ordered.

 

 

 

Next add 4-5 crushed eggshells and two aspirin.  The eggshells are natural and easily accessible sources of calcium which helps protect the fruit from blossom end rot a condition characterized by brownish-black sunken spots on the fruit.  The aspirin, containing salicylic acid, has been proven to boost the plant’s immune system.

 

Throw in one heaping handful of bone meal, a good organic source of phosphorus

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, put in two handfuls of 4-6-4 organic fertilizer and one Tablespoon of nutrient rich worm castings and top with 3-4 inches organic garden soil or compost.

 

 

 

 

 

Trim off lower spent leaves at bottom of plant.  Place in hole so that the dirt will come within an inch or two of the remaining leaves.  If you examine the stem of a tomato you will notice hundreds of furry hairs.  These are all potential roots.  When you bury as much of the stem as possible, you give the plant a better chance to grow strong roots which translate into a stronger plant and more fruit.  I prefer to remove the peat pot and then tear it up and use as mulch on the top of the plant.  This helps the young plant get immediate root exposure to all the nutrients in the soil.

 

 

 

Fill in the remainder of the hole with garden soil and compost.  Water deeply.  This method of planting worked incredibly well.  Plants were extremely healthy and big with some varieties producing up to 40 pounds of tomatoes per plant.  To help with pests we interplanted with basils and borage.  I didn’t see a single horn worm all summer.  Once a large crop developed we did cover with bird netting.  This year all tomatoes will be planted this way in our growing areas.

 

 

Each year we plant several heirloom varieties from across the globe.  No matter their origin, paying close attention to the soil makes all the difference in productivity and flavor.  When the fruit ripens and you are enjoying your delicious tomatoes remember that this growing method has also replenished the soil.

Posted in Uncategorized | 15 Comments

Contemplating the Harvest

  

     Well this picture has been sitting here without a comment or an explanation.  Time to write.  This photo was taken on a day when we needed to have some fun.  So, we took some time to have lunch at the Highland Springs Lavender Farm in Cherry Valley.  It makes me laugh because we look like aliens visiting this farmscape of ball shaped plants.  It may seem odd to start a blog at the end of something, but experience gives you more to write about.   

     SunnysideLOCAL Produce and Nursery has now been operating as a business since April, 2010.  Although our fancy accounting spreadsheet reveals the reality, Jane and I feel the year has been a success.   Our year of success has little to do with money and everything to do with the people that came into our lives over the past nine months.   

     Our first crop of summer vegetable plants was ready for sale in April and we made the decision to sell at the High Desert Farmers Market at Victor Valley College.  April weather in Victorville can be fickle and ferocious.  Because of Victorville, I added the Weather Channel’s Farmer Forecast to my computer Favorite bar.  On the day we were scheduled for our first market,  the farmer forecast called for wind, all day.   Unfazed and oblivious I headed up the Cajon Pass with a truckload of tender heirloom tomato plants, herbs, and other succulent summer transplants.  Did I mention that the vendor bylaws for this market REQUIRE that you bring 25 pounds of weight per leg of your EZ-up structure?  On this particular day I learned why.  When I pulled into the market parking lot I was filled with excitement and anticipation and completely blind to the fact that everything not tethered down was already flapping uncontrollably.  I met with the market manager and was assigned to a spot.  My spot!  SunnysideLOCAL had a spot.  As I walked back to unload my stuff I started to realize how cold and windy it was.  Jane hadn’t arrived yet so I started to unload the hard scape of selling.  EZ-up, tables, movable wire storage rack, buckets of freshly picked citrus.  I struggled in the wind to set up the shade structure.  Another vendor thankfully offered help.  Luckily, I had heeded the market bylaws and staked the structure legs in and threw large bags of soil over the stakes for weight.  Then it was time to take out the babies I had nurtured for over two months.  Two hundred spectacular heirloom tomato transplants were waiting under the tarp.  I pulled two flats from under their protection and in a few seconds realized the wind was blowing them sideways.  I put the flats under the car to see if this would help.  Not a big difference.   

     A twinge of worry slipped through my mind.  Most people want to buy plants that grow straight up, not sideways.  Shredded leaves don’t tend to be a great selling point.  What to do?  At that moment the voice of experience spoke to me.  It was Vincent, the vendor set up across from me.  Vincent, I learned, is from Calabria, Italy.  His thick accent and welcoming nature were wonderfully obvious.  Vincent knew wind.  He was a seasoned market veteran with a long history at this Victor Valley location.  “We call it the W-word up here,” he said.  Like not calling it’s name could keep it at bay.  He said  morning was the calmest and the —- would probably only get stronger from here.  At mid-sentence there was a shudder like sound of a sail filling with air.  We both turned to see my EZ-up held to the earth by only one stake.  He knew wind and he knew how to take down an EZ-up fast.  “Don’t sacrifice your plants,  he said.  Come back next week.”  We did.  We had a great spring season at the High Desert Farmers Market.   

Hundreds of free pots from Fireman Mike

   The high desert turned out to be a great source of growing supplies for the nursery component of our business. While purchasing 15 and 20 gallon pots for our La Colina branch of SunnysideLOCAL, I was given the lead on a man who recently bought an organic nursery.  He wanted to sell the property and had inherited hundreds of tons of pristine organic compost.  Mike is a local fireman in Victorville/Apple Valley and was selling his compost for $25 a truck bed load.  An amazing deal!!! Throughout the spring, we visited Mike two more times. On those visits he refused payment and offered us as many plastic pots as we could fit into the truck bed. FOR FREE!! We owe Mike huge debt of gratitude for his kindness and encouragement. His contributions helped us to stay true to our SunnysideLOCAL philosophy of growing organically and sustainably.

SunnysideLOCAL Farmstand

      As our plant/produce mix shifted we set up a stand on Sunnyside Avenue.  If you want to meet your neighbors, set up a farmstand.  Our street is an early morning pathway for joggers, dog walkers, garage salers, bikers, moped riders, you name it.  Sunnyside Avenue is a charming, serpentine street lined with the most heavenly scent of citrus.  Many of our groves have one hundred year old trees with a water supply system that dates back to the 1880’s.  If you were wondering, our mountain water is what makes the fruit taste so good.  Throughout the summer we had many conversations at this spot on Sunnyside Avenue.  Some stories were very personal.   We would leave the stand feeling, no matter how small, we were doing something worthwhile.  

     

    In July, the biodynamic growing techniques paid off with a great crop of healthy, colorful, tasty, heirloom tomatoes.  Jane and I made the decision to apply for a spot at Redlands Saturday Farmers Market.  During this time SunnysideLOCAL, overflowing with citrus, berries and summer stone fruit, entered the jam making business.  My friend, Carole Inman, of Kool Kactus Cafe, had listened to my dreams of a business for years.  When I presented her with a description of a product line of sustainably grown, pesticide-free jams she generously offered to arrange time in her kitchen.  We became licensed in her space and soon after  “Summer in a Jar” peach jam became the customer favorite of the summer.
     At the Redlands Saturday Market we met Cindy who was our first customer every Saturday.  We learned about the Slow Food movement and just how much people really do care about how food is produced.  Roberto Argiro made us feel good when he complimented our Valencia Orange Marmalade.  As weeks passed, we discovered a community of knowledgeable and generous farmers who were passionate about responsible growing and quality produce.  Redlands is lucky to have a city council that supports not one, but two direct selling market opportunities for farmers. 
     So much was new this year that it almost felt out of control at times.  Business is like a web.  Many elements are connected.  In order to grow we knew we needed a structure and a business model.  In April we made a sale of tomatoes and basil, that would effect our bottom line more than anticipated.  Remember the windy, high desert market day that failed?  On that day instead of going home after the trip down the Cajon Pass, Jane called me to stop in her old Buena Vista neighborhood.  Our friend, Joy Manesiotis, wanted to buy some of our tomato plants.  Joy was our first official customer and great supporter.  Upon seeing our stock, she called many of her neighbors and we ended up selling, Depression era style, off the back of the truck.  One of those customers was Mara Winick, professor of business at University of Redlands.  In October, Mara contacted us with a proposal to participate in a yearly project that she sets up for her third year business students.  Within the structure of this project a local business is assigned to a student team.  The team then ventures to asscss all aspects of the current business and provide its owners with recommendations that will help to strengthen and grow the business.  Danny, Judit, Garrett and Cody have been our trusty foursome for the last several weeks.  I have been struck by their professionalism and enthusiasm.  SunnysideLOCAL has already made improvements based on their research and comments.  We receive our final presentation Thursday, December 16 along with their business class peers.

     So.  This is a fraction of events in the year of SunnysideLOCAL.  There have been frustrations, sleepless nights, sore muscles, personal tribulations and debt.  Even with those things it has been an extremely bountiful harvest. 
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment